Stripped naked by history
It’s taken over half a century since that infamous massacre of Jabidah, 23 young Muslim soldiers in Marcos’ clandestine attack force on Sabah, to arrive at this new moment in Mindanao.
After centuries of war provoked from within and without, that powder keg exploded in 1968 in a new Moro generation’s war against “Imperial Manila.” But their Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) turned into a reality check for both sides, however — a Philippines dependent on the oil fields of the MNLF’s Middle East allies and a brave but far outnumbered young Moro army warring for self-rule.
The “autonomy” the powers-that-be eventually dangled revealed the MNLF’s internal contradictions. Pressured by their main sponsor, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, MNLF Chair Nur Misuari signed the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 without consulting Commander Hashim Salamat. Salamat led the split that founded the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with 57 other battle-hardened field commanders leaning to independence.
Today, the MILF is government’s partner under the new Bangsamoro Organic Law that aspires to a new Bangsamoro. First named by Misuari’s fiery generation, Bangsamoro today means a new patchwork of Muslim, Christian and indigenous communities taking steps to live together in peace, closer to Mindanao’s present-day reality with generations of Christian migrants.
Two major changes in the MNLF’s original concept of Bangsamoro introduced by the MILF are a measure of Mindanao’s historical evolution. First, the MILF decided to remain part of the Philippine Republic as a sub-state. Second is the primacy of basic Islamic precepts, not political ideology, in its internal affairs. Together, they raise hopes for Mindanao’s full development in its unique culture and character.
With naysayers attempting to derail this new process by bombing plebiscite polling places and even the Jolo Cathedral, a striking new element is the loud protest of Moro women against the centuries-old pattern of continued war to settle differences.
One voice belongs to Ayesha Merdeka Concon, 24, historian daughter of MNLF founding member and vice chair Abul Khayr Alonto. Her father went to war from a heady mix of historical grievance and Marxist ideology. Ayesha now bears witness to her father coming down from the hills to tell a Misuari pussyfooting from implementing the Tripoli Agreement that he, Abul Khayr, would lead the implementation “if only to give our people reprieve from the horrors of this war.”
Four decades have since stripped things down to essence in Mindanao. Misuari is now known as a failed ARMM governor. Abul Khayr Alonto is Mindanao Development Authority chair. The faith-oriented MILF is holding at bay territorial splinter groups like the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf and other extremist Islamic groups influenced by the Jemaah Islamiyah. Not too difficult to tell who’s on the right side of history.
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Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.
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